Behaviour - Supply teachers are going in `blindfold', unions warn

19th June 2015 at 01:00
Stabbing brings dangers faced by temporary staff into focus

Schools are being urged to do more to protect temporary staff after a supply teacher was stabbed by a pupil at a secondary in Yorkshire last week.

Teachers and unions have warned that the attack on 50-year-old Vincent Uzomah at Dixons Kings Academy in Bradford highlights the "vulnerable" position supply teachers can find themselves in. Mr Uzomah is reported to be in a stable condition after the incident.

Alison Ryan, a senior policy adviser at the ATL teaching union, said the fact that Mr Uzomah was a supply teacher "jumped off the page" when she read about what had happened. Supply teachers could feel more vulnerable than permanent members of staff because they were "frequently put in front of a class with little information about the children", Ms Ryan said.

In these circumstances it was "likely that there are children with something about their background that it would be useful to know," she said. "If you're a supply teacher, you can be going in blind without any of that information."

It was not clear whether this had been the case at Dixons Kings Academy, Ms Ryan added.

Norfolk-based supply teacher Mike Stuchbery also wants stand-in staff to be told more about the pupils they will teach.

"I don't think much is being done to identify students who have particular needs for the supply teachers coming in," he said. "Some of those needs can mean they may be violent.

"Often when you get a supply teacher into the classroom, it's a spur-of-the-moment thing. There isn't really enough time to put together files or a package of information for the teacher. And the supply teacher might not have time to think about it because they might be at two or three schools in a week."

The problem was highlighted by an NASUWT teaching union survey of more than 1,000 supply teachers in April. The vast majority of respondents (89 per cent) reported not being given appropriate information to support them when they entered a school for the first time. And almost half (47 per cent) believed they were called in to cover lessons with difficult pupils.

Training for `high-level disruption'

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TES that in some cases supply teachers were "going in with a blindfold" because they weren't informed about the pupils.

"It's absolutely essential that a school has proper procedures in place to ensure that people coming into the school are supported," he said. Supply teachers should also do their own research on a school before working there, he added.

Mr Stuchbery believes supply agencies should offer teachers training on the questions to ask before starting at a school and how to "talk students down from high-level disruption".

"It would make [agencies] more attractive to supply teachers, because they would be able to give teachers the skills to be able to handle difficult situations," he explained.

Ms Ryan said schools should make sure that supply teachers were notified about pupils deemed to be "higher risk". The teachers should be given details of schools' behaviour and child protection strategies and told which approaches, including sanctions, were more effective with particular pupils. In practice, schools were "inconsistent" at doing this, she added.

Setting aside time to ensure supply teachers were properly briefed would make them feel more secure and confident in the classroom, she argued.

Amanda Nicoll has had "good and bad experiences" as a supply teacher and told TES she had felt unsafe in the classroom (see panel, above). Supply teachers without proper support from schools were "vulnerable" because they had "no one to turn to", she said. "You're often floundering as a supply teacher.To the kids, supply teachers are fair game."

`I got my bags and walked out'

"During a Year 9 lesson, a Year 11 pupil came in and started to make offensive remarks of a sexual nature to me," says Amanda Nicoll, a supply teacher in the South West of England.

"I'd become a target because I was enforcing the school's behaviour policy. The kids were thinking they had a ringside seat to watch a teacher being abused by a 15-year-old."

When another teacher came in, he was also rude to her. "At that stage, I didn't have confidence in the school's approach to behaviour," she says. "I didn't feel safe and I didn't feel valued. I got my bags and walked out."

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